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Grill Bill: Panic, McCaffrey up the middle and lunch meat

It's amazing that even though most of us understand the NFL's an unpredictable, week-to-week roller coaster, it's still nearly impossible to resist getting too hot or too cold after every given game. 


The Panthers are above .500, they're a half-game off the pace in the NFC South, they've won at New England, they're two weeks removed from gifting the team many currently consider the class of the NFC two touchdowns in a narrow loss, and while Greg Olsen won't be able to help in games for another month, the Pro Bowl tight end could be back on the practice field as soon as next week. 

Now, I'm not going to claim there aren't legit concerns – especially offensively. But it's probably wise to step back from the ledge until we at least get into the second half of the season.

Email from Parker: Ron and Shula said this week that maybe they were asking Curtis Samuel to do too much too soon. With that being said, do you see him getting less snaps? Maybe more looks to Russell Shepard?

Let's flash back to last week's "Grill Bill" where I wrote of Samuel

"He'll probably never get a handful of carries a game, but his speed out of the backfield could be a fun weapon." 


The plan to get the rookie more involved obviously backfired when his dropped pitch torpedoed the Panthers' promising opening drive and directly led to the Bears' first defensive touchdown. For at least the next few weeks, the Panthers should let him focus on receiver and take any running back-like duties off his plate. 

And sure, maybe Samuel's early struggles will lead to more opportunities for Shepard, who has just 10 catches through seven games. But let's remember, expectations for him should have always been tempered. His 23 receptions for the Bucs last season were a career high, so he's actually right on pace to match that. 

Probably not until the offense starts to click. 

The Panthers wanted to start rotating him with Daryl Williams at right tackle early this season, but they never felt the flow was right. They're still waiting, obviously. 

That doesn't explain why Moton's stayed on the sideline while Amini Silatolu has gone in for guys like Matt Kalil and Trai Turner when they've been banged up. But as I explained a few weeks ago, coaches are more comfortable putting in the guy with more than two dozen starts under his belt. Plus, Moton does need to improve in practice. That's when he's obviously getting his longest look and the consistency isn't there yet.  

Email from Tyler: *Astros vs Dodgers - who ya got? *

Houston is really, really good, but L.A. has been the best team in baseball all season (excluding that strange early-September slump).

The Dodgers' ace is a Future Hall of Famer, the rest of the pitching staff is solid, the lineup is scary good and that's a ridiculously deep bench. So even before they won Game 1, I would've said L.A.

Email from Sawyer: *Would you say the main reason for all the pressure on Cam Newton is O-line issues, Cam holding on to the ball too long, or receivers not creating any separation? *

All of the above. 

Newton's 22 sacks through seven games put him on pace to finish the season at 50. The most times he's been sacked in a single season was 43 in 2013. So he's under a lot of pressure, but there isn't one solution. 

Here's something to look for going forward, though: Generally, you want your quarterback releasing the ball no more than 2.5 seconds after the snap. If he's sacked before that, it's on the offensive line. If it's after, it's because his options didn't get themselves open or he took too long to make a decision. So while it's easy to bang on the Panthers' line and wideouts, Newton's also still doing too much of this: 

Because he waited too long to see how Chicago's safety was going to play Kelvin Benjamin, Newton was too late firing to one of four options on the left side of the field – most notably a streaking Samuel. The time from snap to first contact by defensive end Akiem Hicks was about 3.84 seconds. 

It's not like they're not doing it at all. Two examples I can think of off the top of my head: 

1) Newton's 11-yard pass to Chris Manhertz, which came one play before Sunday's botched option pitch. 

2) The third-and-one in Detroit when Newton found a wide-open Ed Dickson for 57 yards. 

But why don't they do it more? That's a fair question.


No and No. 

I'd stop trying to run Christian McCaffrey up the middle. I get they think he has the skillset to make it work, but it's not working right now – as his 2.5 yards per carry shows. 

One of the problems is the Panthers are a power run team and McCaffrey would likely be more effective in an outside zone. Adding that element was never going to happen overnight, but I think they should figure out how to run McCaffrey more off the edge. 

I don't have much of a Kalil update for you, but Greg Van Roten should be back at practice this week after dealing with a sore shoulder. Your question brings up something I was wondering Sunday, though. 

With Tyler Larsen in for Kalil and Van Roten inactive, who's the Panthers' fourth option at center? That's Andrew Norwell. 

The Panthers have gone to the playoffs three times in the past four years; they're two seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance, their quarterback is a former MVP and, again, they're above .500 and well within striking distance in the NFC South. 

Want to hear what it was like growing up a Browns fan? 

I'll spare you that story of suffering. 

I'm guessing this is tongue-in-cheek, but assuming a win is a wee bit too much of an overcorrection from panic mode. But thank you for helping me wrap this up by coming full circle. 

And – hard salami. 

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